Muslim Girl recently released a video that aimed to illustrate 100 years of hijab fashion in one minute. The creators featured styles from a range of places in the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. Starting in Egypt in the 1910s, the video passes through Kurdistan, Palestine, Pakistan, Algeria, Yemen, Iran, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq before ending in Syria in the 2010s.
Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, founder and editor-in-chief of MuslimGirl, told The Huffington Post that her team dreamed up the video after realizing that the hijab was being “commodified” by the Western fashion industry during a time when Muslim women are being discriminated against for wearing it. In fact, fashion brands like Dolce & Gabbana and Uniqlo have started to cash in on modest fashion by releasing their own lines of apparel targeted at Muslim women.
“The hot trend of modest fashion is neglecting the rich history and nuance of the hijab and how it relates to Muslim women’s identities,” Al-Khatahtbeh told HuffPost in an email. “It’s more than just a cloth on our heads. It is a symbol of our power, history, and agency.”
Al-Khatahtbeh explained that the hijab styles in the video are meant to represent a moment in each country or region’s political history that is central to its present-day reality. For example, the producers chose to highlight Pakistan during its movement towards independence, Algeria during its revolution against French rule, and Egypt during its revolution against British colonization.
The Muslim Girl team put the hijab styles in the video within the political context of their decade by layering a historical image into the background. The purpose, according to Al-Khatahtbeh, was to underscore that Muslim women have always been driving forces in their societies — getting involved in politics, protesting on the front lines, and making sacrifices for their countries.
But the fact is that these revolutions haven’t always had a positive impact on women. For example, Iranian women today have mixed feelings about whether the Iranian revolution, which is highlighted in Muslim Girl’s video, helped bring progress to women’s rights in that country.
Al-Khatahtbeh agreed that women’s demands are often neglected in times of political upheaval. But she wanted to emphasize that women were still a force in those movements.
“They still organized in public and private spheres of life and made tremendous sacrifices for the country’s fate and future,” she wrote. “And that is more important than anything else in my opinion: the long legacy of Muslim women speaking truth to power that is rarely highlighted, but should be.”
The producers also said that they intentionally included times and countries in which wearing the hijab wasn’t a free choice for Muslim women because, as Al-Khatahtbeh noted, “that is an important part of the hijab’s history and also discourse surrounding it today.”
“The politicization of the hijab, both by Muslim governments as well as Western governments that are outlawing it, reinforces that our freedom lies in our choice,” Al-Khatahtbeh wrote. “Ultimately, we want to reclaim the headscarf, from politicization just as much as commodification.”
The video isn’t without its critics. On Facebook, some users have questioned why the video focuses on the MENA region when there are vibrant Muslim populations in other parts of Africa and Asia.
Al-Khatahtbeh explained to HuffPost that the team is working on another video focusing on hijab styles in Sub-Saharan Africa. For this first version, they were aiming to “include a selection of countries that has defined the average understanding of the Middle East region.”
“The countries in the video have been recipients to some of the worst American foreign policies of the past century. We also wanted to make it a point to highlight the history of colonization and imperialism that has greatly impacted Muslim women’s resistance through the ages,” Al-Khatahtbeh wrote.